This article concerns the manner in which we think and talk about power in health care policy and regulation, and the political and social practices allied with that discourse. I assert that in health care policy and practice we speak of and live within the era of countervailing power. In this language and practice power is a force exercised by one actor to enforce its will against another actor against whom power is exerted. I contend that this language inculcates an individual and social passivity in which citizens rely upon various types of representatives to constitute health care for them in a manner in which they do not and cannot participate. However, this language of power and the political and social practice with which it is associated is merely a contingent, historical product. I claim that an alternative discourse of power is possible, in which power consists of the social interactions in which all of us mutually participate but no one of us can control. Power in this sense is participatory by nature, and because no one is in control, it makes no sense to relegate tasks to specialized, nonparticipatory domains. This alternative discourse of power, therefore, might call forth participatory practices in health careand a concomitant diminution of specialization and expansion of the public sphere. The result would be to blur the lines separating politics from everyday interaction, politics from economy, professionals from patients, and insurers from insureds. Participation would mean much more than casting a vote or writing a check but would also include the mutual sharing of time and energy in the tasks that need to be done: long-term and short-term care, practices of prevention, caringfor the chronically ill, and monitoring bureaucratic and professional activities.

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